On a summer evening about a decade ago, an unusual group entered the spacious Israeli beach house home of Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. His guest at his home in Beit Yanai, to which he had made a special trip from his home in Los Angeles especially for the meeting, was Meir Dagan, the director at the time of Israel’s Mossad espionage agency.
Also in attendance was a Russian oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin and the oligarch’s young daughter. They were joined by several others as well.
The splendid setting and the group of guests, with a hint of international intrigue, could have been the opening scene of the kind of blockbuster thriller Milchan likes to produce. The conversation focused on a matter that was not routinely on Dagan’s agenda.
It wasn’t assassinations or the foiling of attacks that were the subject of discussion but rather furthering the career of the oligarch’s daughter, who was 21 at the time and had dreams of making it big in America.
Dagan was asking for the Hollywood tycoon’s help in getting to the right people. This story, reported here for the first time, provides a behind-the scenes peek at Milchan’s relationships with various Israeli state organizations, relationships that continued until a number of years ago.
The eccentric tycoon enjoyed combining business, entertainment and genuine adventure of the James Bond kind. He always made himself available to contacts initiated by Israeli state entities, taking advantage of his position of power in Los Angeles for productions that were larger than life.
In this case too, when Dagan called, Milchan put himself at Dagan’s disposal. His readiness to provide assistance whenever Dagan or his colleague would call may be decisive in Case 1000, the criminal investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over allegations that he received lavish gifts from wealthy businessmen, including Milchan.
Did Netanyahu ask the U.S. secretary of state at the time, John Kerry, to extend Milchan’s American visa by virtue of Milchan’s contribution to Israel’s interests, or heaven forbid, was it a payback for cigars and bottles of champagne that the prime minister received on a regular basis from Milchan?
Dagan knew the oligarch, who is involved in the energy business and holds an important public post in Moscow, from one of the Mossad chief’s frequent visits to Russia. Dagan, who died in March 2016, spoke fluent Russian, which helped him to develop connections.
While he was head of the Mossad, Dagan viewed the development of close ties with Russia, with Putin and with his close circle of associates as a strategic goal, and he accompanied the Israeli prime ministers under whom he served — Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Netanyahu — in their meetings with the president of Russia.
The oligarch was a valuable contact for Israel, not only because of his connection to the Russian leadership, but also as an associate of the ruler of Libya at the time, Muammar Gadhafi. That was before the Arab Spring erupted in 2010, and at the time, Gadhafi was thought to be the leader of a stable Arab country that was seeking to extract itself from long years of international isolation. When Putin visited Libya in the spring of 2008, the oligarch was there at his side.
About a decade ago, Dagan met the oligarch and heard from him that his daughter was seeking to develop an international musical career, but unfortunately things weren’t going well. Dagan spotted an opportunity to cultivate a friendship with a man who had contacts in Moscow and Tripoli.
He told him that he could arrange an international career for the daughter.
Dagan called Milchan, set up a meeting with him and presented the challenge at hand. Milchan replied that he could help, using his wide network of contacts in Hollywood. This was followed by the arrival of the group of visitors to Israel.
The meeting at Milchan’s seaside home in Beit Yanai went well initially, and Milchan put the young woman in touch with a Hollywood recording studio. Despite her father’s money and the goodwill, however, her career didn’t take off.
Her YouTube account features just one clip in English. It’s not clear why Operation Singer was nipped in the bud, but efforts to advance it stopped.
Milchan has been assisting various Israeli entities for many years. He was recruited by Shimon Peres and worked under the direction of the Bureau of Scientific Relations, a Defense Ministry unit responsible for technological espionage and obtaining material and equipment for the Israeli reactor at Dimona.
Among the tasks that were known to have been assigned to Milchan was the production of promotional film clips in support of the apartheid regime in South Africa so that the regime would supply Israel uranium to fuel the reactor, and the import of triggers that could be used in the construction of a nuclear warhead.
Milchan’s partner, Richard Smyth, was caught and put on trial, but Milchan managed to evade the authorities.
In 2013, Milchan was interviewed on the Channel 2 television program “Uvda” and dispelled the mystery around his activities. He confirmed the case of the detonators as well as his activity on behalf of South Africa. The Uvda report, which disclosed Israeli espionage activity in the United States, angered the Americans, and when Milchan, an Israeli citizen, sought to extend his American visa, he was granted a one-year extension rather than 10 years.
Milchan then contacted Netanyahu, who tried to assist Milchan on the matter a number of times via the American ambassador to Israel at the time, Daniel Shapiro, and Kerry. The efforts were successful and the visa was extended as initially requested.
Following their investigation of Case 1000, the Israel Police asserted in their recommendations on the case that the visa extension was a quid-pro-quo that Netanyahu provided Milchan in exchange for the Hollywood producer’s steady supply, at the Netanyahu family’s request, of champagne and cigars.
For his part, the prime minister claims that he worked to assist Milchan as he has others who have suffered as a result of their actions in Israel’s defense. Netanyahu also cited the case of former national security adviser Uzi Arad, who had been denied a U.S. visa and whom the prime minister helped to obtain one.
At this point, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit wll have to decide if Netanyahu was providing a payback through his diplomatic lobbying for Milchan’s “gifts” or whether it was a reasonable response on the state’s part to a producer who acceded to a request from the Mossad chief to assist in Operation Singer and similar activities over the years.